It was oldtimers day in federal court in Brooklyn, and the
NEW YORK (AP) _ It was oldtimers day in federal court in Brooklyn, and the Internal Revenue Service was eager to show its latest prize catches _ Hall of Famers Duke Snider and Willie McCovey.
Both pleaded guilty Thursday to tax evasion in a crackdown by the IRS on a baseball memorabilia market that has sometimes encouraged players to hide their earnings from the federal government.
Snider and McCovey joined an expanding lineup of convicted tax cheats in a sport already weighed down by drug problems, dwindling attendance and lingering resentment from a strike that wiped out the World Series.
``I was aware of the crime that was involved and I made the wrong choice,″ Snider said outside court. ``As a consequence, I got caught. I’m very sorry about it and I hope to get a second chance from a lot of my fans.″
Snider, 68, of Fallbrook, Calif., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit tax fraud. Appearing before U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, he admitted not reporting $100,000 in cash from card shows and memorabilia appearances from 1984-93. He faces up to six months in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the loss to the government. No sentencing date was set.
It was especially poignant that Snider’s public embarrassment came in Brooklyn, where in the 1950s he was the local favorite in the streetcorner debate over which center fielder was the best in New York.
The crowd outside the courthouse included an old man wearing a worn blue Brooklyn Dodgers cap.
McCovey, 57, leaning on a cane following recent knee surgery, pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion.
He admitted that he failed to declare $41,800 in income in 1989, a year in which he made $87,000, and $69,800 in baseball memorabilia income received between 1988 and 1990.
McCovey, of Kentfield, Calif., faces up to seven months in prison and a $250,000 fine under the plea bargain.
Both pleas stemmed in part from three days of signing autographs at a 1989 memorabilia show in Atlantic City, N.J. McCovey admitted receiving $33,000 in cash from the show while Snider said he received $10,000 and conspired with promoters of the show to hide it from the IRS.
The convictions were the government’s latest blow in a crackdown on unreported income from autograph signings and memorabilia shows that became million-dollar businesses in the 1980s.
``I don’t view $100,000 as petty or a small amount of money,″ said Charles T. Franssen, chief of the criminal investigation division for the IRS in Brooklyn. ``The problem of the underground economy and people receiving cash is very serious.″
In 1990, Pete Rose, baseball’s career hit leader, served five months in prison and paid a $50,000 fine after pleading guilty to failing to report $354,968 during a four-year period.
Earlier this year, outfielder Darryl Strawberry pleaded guilty to failing to pay between $75,000 and $120,000 in taxes between 1986 and 1990. Strawberry was given six months home confinement and ordered to pay $350,000 in back taxes and penalties.
Snider was the star center fielder on the fabled Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the 1950s. With Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Willie Mays of the Giants, he completed a triumvirate of slugging outfielders that symbolized New York’s glory days in baseball.
Snider was a consistent run-producer for Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer, a team that won pennants in six of 10 years beginning with his rookie season. His best year was 1954, when he batted .341 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs. He had 40 or more homers five straight years beginning in 1953.
McCovey, who played mostly for the San Francisco Giants, retired after the 1980 season, finishing with 521 homers, eighth on the career list.
Snider was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1980. McCovey joined him in Cooperstown in 1986.